Author: Meghan Farrell

Department of Educational Leadership Welcomes Post-Doctoral Researcher

Reem Al Ghanem Headshot
Reem Al Ghanem

The Neag School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership welcomed Reem Al Ghanem as a postdoctoral researcher in September.  

Dr. Reem Al Ghanem earned her B.S. in Special Education from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, and her Ed.M. and Ed.D. in Special Education from Boston University.  In her undergraduate studies, she majored in severe disabilities, but in her graduate studies, Al Ghanem shifted her interests to mild/moderate disabilities with a focus on reading disability.

Al Ghanem’s interests in reading disability developed from her professional experience as a special education teacher in Saudi Arabia, where she worked alongside Arabic/English bilingual students with reading difficulties.  The school in which she worked had numerous resources for reading intervention strategies in English, but similar resources in Arabic were scarce. Given the thin literature on reading disabilities and reading intervention in Arabic, the school relied largely on translating and trying to adapt English reading interventions to Arabic and Al Ghanem began to question whether this approach was truly effective as English and Arabic are distinctly different languages. She also challenged herself to identify ways she could better help those students with the most severe reading disabilities.

These questions lead Al Ghanem to focus her graduate studies in the area of reading. She became more heavily involved in reading research when, during her first year of doctoral studies, she began working with Dr. Devin Kearns and in 2015 she jointly published a literature review with Dr. Kearns on word recognition in Arabic in the Reading Research Quarterly journal. Today, Al Ghanem continues her research and efforts to help improve reading interventions in both English and Arabic.

Al Ghanem became involved in leadership and policy research during her last year of graduate studies. Her interest in leadership, policy, and teacher education developed as a result of her own experience as a student-teacher and her experience teaching methods classes to pre-service and in-service teachers working with students who had reading disabilities. In both experiences, she ran into cases where school administration and district personnel, played a great role in determining what reading programs, interventions, and instructional methods were to used to support students with reading difficulty.

These thought provoking disparities align with the work that Dr. Al Ghanem will be conducting at UConn working on an IES-Funded Project with Professor Morgaen Donaldson. The project focuses on the associations between district policies related to principal evaluation, principal’s enactment of learning-centered leadership practices, and student achievement in reading and mathematics. Al Ghanem and Donaldson are working together as part of a larger research team headquartered at the University of Connecticut with collaborators at the University of Virginia, and Michigan State University.

Within her role at Neag's School of Education, Dr. Al Ghanem’s responsibilities will include interviewing principals, conducting surveys, and analyzing student data to learn more about the principal’s involvement in making instructional decisions, their leadership style, and how they influence student achievement. She is working primarily from the University of Connecticut branch in Downtown Hartford, CT, and is looking forward to working with the community of scholars in the Department of Educational Leadership. Welcome Dr. Reem Al Ghanem!

Global Researcher: Professor Shaun Dougherty Presents Vocational Education Research Abroad

Shaun Dougherty Headshot
Educational Leadership's Professor Shaun Dougherty

On September 15, 2017, Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy, Shaun Dougherty, presented research on technical education at the University College Dublin School of Economics in Dublin, Ireland. Four days prior to his visit to UCD, Dr. Dougherty presented at The Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) Conference at the London School of Economics in London, England. Following his trip, we were able to talk with Dr. Dougherty concerning the importance of technical and vocational education and his experience abroad:

1. How does postsecondary education in the United States compare to the education systems in Europe?

In the US we have a highly self-directed system of tertiary education whereby students can self-select into two- or four-year colleges, technical training, or no tertiary education as well. In the UK and Ireland, the systems are more similar to the US than in much of the rest of mainland Europe. That said, even the UK system is more differentiated than our own, with clearer vocational pathways for tertiary education, and less clearly defined in programs that would look like our community colleges.

2. Why is the idea of vocational education more popular abroad and what barriers have limited technical schools as a widely accepted route in the United States?

The United States has generally favored a focus on individual choice in educational pursuits and have thus chosen to focus on development of more general skills, rather than encouraging differentiation of educational pathways based on prior test score of academic performance. In the UK and Ireland there is less differentiation early in the educational process. In contrast, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark differentiate across educational pathways that are college bound, or not, much earlier (e.g. lower secondary, or transition to upper secondary).

3. How has the value of a high school diploma changed in the United States? Additionally, how has the value of a bachelor’s degree changed in the United States?

Over the last three decades there has been a clear decline in the value of a high school diploma. Some of this decline has been driven by the fact that high school graduation rates have risen steadily over this period, which has reduced the ability of the diploma to be used as a way to distinguish students with lower and middle skills. In contrast, the value of a bachelor’s degree has increased over this period, though there is some speculation now whether we may see a plateau in the returns to a college degree as rates of degree acquisition increase.

4. What is the future for technical education schools and vocational training in the United States?

In the present political moment, interest in Career and Technical Education (CTE) as part of “college and career readiness” is at its highest in 30 years. As there is increased evidence of lower than desired college completion rates (among those who ever enroll), there is an acknowledgement that differentiation in career pathways is important, and that college for all policies may not have done as well as they might in creating awareness of the myriad of educational and workforce options that may be available to people. I anticipate that technical education will continue to garner some substantial attention in the near term. However, unless states and districts do a good job of defining educational options and articulating how they can transfer into higher education and employment, there may be under utilization of these educational pathways.

5. What are the advantages of vocational training and how can it improve employment outcomes?

Poster Board from the Centre for Vocational Education Research Conference in London, England

One of the benefits of technical education is that it makes schooling relevant and clearly applies it to a form of learning that reflects a use in employment. A second potential benefit is that it can impart skills that may be in demand in the workforce, and that could lead to higher wages, especially early in an individual's working career. That said, there is some evidence that the long-term trajectories of those who focus on CTE in high school may not be as favorable as those who get more general skills and pursue other forms of higher education. The key is not to position the choices as binary, either/or, decisions. Students who participate in CTE in high school may get benefits that include enhanced bridges to postsecondary education. Furthermore, for students for whom college is not palatable, CTE may improve their outcomes over what they would have been in the absence of technical education.

6.What did you learn from other researchers at the Centre for Vocational Educational Research (CVER) Conference and/or at the University College Dublin (UCD) that you think could improve upon the traditional education path in the United States?

The CVER conference was a nice way to reinforce for me the myriad of ways that our neighbors in the EU are thinking about and innovating in education. One of the best reminders I received was that, while CTE doesn’t always carry a negative stigma, the social value of different forms of education is highly variable. What this means to me is that educational policy in the US has to be realistic about how it uses and promotes policies to improve educational and workforce outcomes in the US. It also reminded me that there are more variants on the models we use in the US for technical education, and that there are continued opportunities to learn from those who have been doing this longer than we have.

Dr. Dougherty's research has recently been featured in The Conversation, UConn Today, Brookings Institute and in former Vice President Joe Biden's podcast, Biden's Briefing.


EDLR Professors, Jennifer McGarry and Laura Burton, Return as Mentors for Empower Women through Sport Initiative

Agnes Baluka Masajja
Agnes Baluka Masajja, a 2017 Global Sports Mentoring Program Emerging Leader, takes part in a physical training session with fellow emerging leaders at Ambitious Athletics in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of U.S. Dept. of State in cooperation with the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society. Photographer: Jaron Johns)

The Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP)’s Empower Women Through Sports Initiative is an international initiative co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and espnW that partners emerging female leaders from 17 countries with leading executives and experts in the U.S. sports industry.  We are excited to announce that Neag School faculty members Jennie McGarry and Laura Burton will once again be serving in the coming weeks as hosts.

Now in its sixth year, Empower Women Through Sports recognizes female achievement in sport leadership, and aims to empower these emerging leaders to serve their local communities through increasing access to, and opportunities for, women and girls to participate in sports — and, ultimately, ignite change as an ambassador for female athletes around the world.

“What sports has done for me I feel it can do for girls throughout Uganda. ... Sports becomes a platform for a bigger conversation.”

— Agnes Baluka Masajja, Global Sport Mentoring Program Emerging Leader

McGarry and Burton, both professors in the Neag School’s Department of Educational Leadership, were invited back to GSMP to serve as 2017 program mentors for emerging leader Agnes Baluka Masajja, sports tutor at Busitema University and head of Education Commission with the Association of Uganda University Sports. Baluka Masajja is one of 17 women tapped as 2017 GSMP emerging leaders, all of whom have three or more years of professional or volunteer experience with a sport-based development organization. Each selected emerging leader uses this opportunity to explore a key challenge facing girls and women or people with disabilities in her home country.

‘This is my destiny’

Baluka Masajja has always been a natural when it came to sports. She excelled in all her athletic endeavors, including netball, soccer and track and field. However, despite her achievement in sport, her father pressured her to abandon athletics and focus entirely on her academics.

In her featured GSMP emerging leader profile, she explains how she managed to continue her participation in athletics despite her father’s wishes, “I would have to hide when I ran so he wouldn’t find out,” she says. “I would avoid any national competitions or races where there’d be media coverage because I didn’t want to get in trouble. By the time I got to university, I told my dad, ‘This is my career. This is my destiny.’ So he couldn’t refuse me anymore.”

Baluka Masajja is the second GSMP Emerging Leader to be hosted by professors Laura Burton and Jennie McGarry at the Neag School. (Courtesy of U.S. Dept. of State in cooperation with the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society. Photographer: Jaron Johns)

Patriarchal structures in Ugandan society treat men and women very differently in sports. Athletics are seen as part of the natural domain of men. Females in sport often face societal pressure to focus on domestic duties as well as a threat of sexual harassment from male coaches.

Baluka Masajja’s story, however, is different. She broke through barriers and currently serves as a role model for other Ugandan female athletes to do the same. As a sports tutor at Busitema University, she holds positions as a coordinator and supervisor for the university’s 16 athletics programs, only five of which are available for women. The limited number of programs is something she is striving to change. In addition, she serves as head of the Education Commission with the Association of Uganda University Sports, through which she organizes national and international tournaments; coaches workshops for sports trainers and tutors; and hosts seminars and conferences across Uganda.

Baluka Masajja also was a coach for the country’s athletics delegation for the 2015 World University Games in South Korea, and will serve in the same capacity for the 2017 competition in Taipei.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs website, girls who participate in sports are more likely to have higher rates of school retention and participate in society more. “When women and girls can walk on the playing field, they are more likely to step into the classroom, the boardroom, and step out as leaders in society,” the website states.

For Baluka Masajja, this sentiment rings true. “What sports has done for me, I feel it can do for girls throughout Uganda,” she says. “Sports becomes a platform for a bigger conversation.”

“I hope to develop skills related to management and business that will help me contribute to economic growth. I also hope to learn about U.S. sports and nonprofit environments so I may implement similar ideas at home,” explains Baluka Masajja in regards to her goals as a GSMP emerging leader,

After attending next week’s annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit in California, an event that unites female athletes, leaders in sports, and other industry leaders, Baluka Masajja will arrive at UConn to spend three weeks immersed in various learning and networking experiences with McGarry and Burton as her host mentors, who are both experts in gender issues in sport, specifically with marginalized ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

The Neag School will welcome Baluka Masajja at the Department of Educational Leadership General Meeting from 9:45 a.m. to noon on Friday, Oct. 6, in Gentry Room 142 on the UConn Storrs campus, and will share more information on this and other GSMP-related activities in the coming weeks.

Learn more through this featured GSMP video or visit the U.S. Department of State’s GSMP website. Or, check out GSMP on Facebook. Read more about Agnes Baluka Masajja here.

Cohort’s Collaborative Effort Stands Out as Members Recently Complete Ed.D. Program

Members of the 2013 cohort, Meg Smith, Lara White, Roszena Haskins, Tayarisha Stone, Regina Hopkins and Ann Traynor, have all recently earned their Doctorate of Education through the Ed.D. Program from the Neag School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership. Achieving a doctorate while working as a high level professional is a difficult task, however, the women of the 2013 cohort were able to accomplish this feat through collaboration and continual support of one another. Their ability to balance work, personal life, and academia, and the way they tackled critical issues in the field of education was inspiring and set a model for future cohorts. Dr. Sarah Woulfin noted that “this cohort’s efforts provides a stellar example of how Ed.D. cohorts can collaborate to attain their goals as scholars and educational leaders.”

Members of the 2013 cohort worked well inside and outside of the classroom
Members of the 2013 cohort worked well together, both inside and outside of the classroom

There was always a strong presence and communication which set the tone for their cohort success. Meg Smith, described the cohort as academically and emotionally supportive and that members, “...were always attuned to what was happening with people professionally.” Ann Traynor echoed this as she said her fellow cohort members served as, “‘Critical friends’ during courses, the development of our problem of practice and proposal, and during the research, analysis and writing of our dissertations.” They were a cohesive unit, who bonded not only as professionals and peers, but as friends. The cohort often had dinner together, and socialized outside of the program, which strengthened their dynamic and built lasting friendships.

Cohort member, Roszena Haskins commented that,

“The diverse educational and professional make-up of our cohort was invaluable throughout the program. We shared our individual expertise, resources and strengths with each other. When we experienced challenges, we united as a problem-solving body and support system. Our cohort was collaborative. Our interactions in the classroom evolved into a special network of educators and developed lasting relationships outside of the academic setting.”

Despite their inspiring work ethic, their commitment included some challenges. Each member was growing in their respective full-time careers, and taking on new challenges as school leaders. Lara White explained, “We have all had to manage our careers, graduate school, and family, and it wasn't always easy but we understood each other in a way that others couldn't.”

Other members reiterated this sentiment saying that they felt they did not always have “full access” as most of the cohort members were off-campus. They credited cohort member, Ann Traynor, who works as the Director of Academic Advising and Certification Officer at the Neag School of Education for assisting the cohort with many on-campus responsibilities and giving them an inside perspective about the university. Each member had to be disciplined with how they split their time, but as a team they complemented each other's obligations and responsibilities to tackle the workload, together.

While they came from different backgrounds, and had different research interests the cohort was able to share research while building each other’s confidence. Their research included:

  • Improving cultural competence through professional development
  • Teachers’ emotional responses to coaching
  • Culturally responsive instruction and the recruitment and retention of teachers of color
  • College readiness, persistence and success through the lens of equity and policy
  • How educational policy and policy implementation can create or perpetuate inequities, especially for students of color and first-generation college students

Across the board, cohort members brought passion and dedication while engaging in quality research and creating meaningful work around these critical issues. They identified overlapping themes and helped each other whenever they could. This type of support is critical in framing the cohort's culture while maintaining a work-life balance.

This unique group unanimously agreed their success was a result of Ed.D’s faculty. Meg Smith stressed the value of how each professor challenged the cohort members academically, while concurrently building their confidence.  She also stated the “professors of the Ed.D. program universally are absolute experts in their field selected because they understand challenges of working, and they have the absolute keenest sense of what you need to know in each sub field to enhance practice and scholarship.”

Meg Stone with Dr. Sarah Woulfin
Meg Smith standing outside of the Gentry building with Ed.D. faculty, Dr. Sarah Woulfin

Smith explained that faculty, specifically Dr. Sarah Woulfin, went out of her way to make sure she was creating meaningful work, while also ensuring that she knew her work was of the caliber to present at conferences such as the AERA Annual Meeting. Lara White also emphasized how meaningful it was to have the faculty's support,

“I loved the level of care and intelligence of our department. Dr. Woulfin ensured that we never felt alone and always provided help and assurance of our endeavors.”

2013 Cohort graduates with Drs. Jennie Weiner and Sarah Woulfin
2013 Cohort graduates with Drs. Jennie Weiner and Sarah Woulfin

Support from the entire faculty illustrated a passion for educational leadership that members were able to feed off of and inspired their work. Roszena Haskins described how the program and its faculty “established an engaging learning community where I especially enjoyed the dissertation research process for which I had three strong advisors who understood my strengths and responded to my academic needs.”

The community of support among faculty and within the cohort itself drove motivation for members to create meaningful work and stay disciplined to finishing the program in a timely manner. Teamwork and passion drove their success which led them to finishing their degree in four years while tackling critical issues surrounding education within Connecticut.

The Department of Educational Leadership and Ed.D. program extends deep congratulations to the women of the 2013 cohort on their completion of the Ed.D. program and thanks them for their hard work, dedication and, commitment to their degree, the program and each other.